When You Love Your Children, But You Need Some Space

mother and daughter hugging and kissing

Photo Credit: Janelle Hamrick


Few things are sweeter to a mother than the sticky kisses of her children. As mommy to my 3-year-old little brown girl, Bean, I never get tired of planting smooches on her chubby cheeks (when she allows me to). When she reciprocates with a bird-like peck, I light up. Her hugs give me life. But underneath my general love for toddler affection, I have a slight confession to make.

Sometimes my daughter’s need for closeness drives me nuts.  

Kisses and hugs are the nectar of toddlers, let’s just get that straight. However, for reasons I have yet to intuit, if I am lying down, Bean has to be right. there. on. top. of. me. Her cold, clammy feet push up against my legs, my backside, my spine, like I’m a punching bag. My face becomes her personal pillow no matter how big the bed is.  Toddler morning breath ain’t nothing sweet.

Bean is a terrific cuddler…and motorboater. Nearly three years after I weaned her from breastfeeding, she still likes to show “appreciation” for my breasts by sticking her face in my chest and shaking her head. She wraps her tiny-but-firm fingers around my neck for her hugs. I have to gasp for air, pry her hands loose, and remind her not to choke mommy.

Her reply makes me feel guilty: “But I want to hug you!”

Even if we are lounging on the couch, she wants to sit in my lap. That’s cool for exactly 15 minutes or until she starts to dig her bony knees into the flesh of my thighs. At nearly four years old, she’s starting to get legitimately heavy. I am also seven months pregnant; I don’t have a lot of lap real estate left for her to occupy.

Sometimes I wonder if such behavior is par for the course with small children. Their trajectory of discovery literally starts with them finding the fingers and toes attached to their appendages. They learn themselves first before moving on to others. Toddlers are notoriously selfish, which makes the times when they are affectionate so precious.

Accordingly, I try my best to be patient with her. It seems I have done a stellar job teaching her regard for self-autonomy and her own personal boundaries…but a terrible job of teaching her to respect mine. She can indignantly tell me when she does not want to be kissed. She is, however, not so receptive when I tell her to stop after she kisses my cheek for the 17th time in a row.

Part of our daily routine is to recite her “chores, ” one of which includes “Respect Others.” She solemnly says the words after me. I tell her, “Remember respect others?” when her fingers reach toward my mouth or other unseemly places. She nods enthusiastically. Her memory is as short as her stubby little digits.

When I am tired, or kicked in the gut, or short on my resolve not to bark at her, I disappoint myself. I yell. I push her off me unceremoniously. The betrayal in her big brown eyes fills me with recriminations. Mothers are not supposed to reject their babies, right? She is only a child, I remind myself. I try to scoop her back close to me and gently tell her that she can hurt mommy, that she must respect my wishes for space. Other times, I am not so soft.

Ultimately, this three-foot-nothing little human must grow up to learn that she is not the only person who likes her space respected. It’s important she learns this before pre-school. Nevertheless, I still want desperately to affirm her childlike need to be close to her mother, even as I struggle to teach her how close is too close. I want to have her kisses and my space, too. Until I find balance, I suppose I’ll be repeating “respect others” until the day she finally understands what that means.

Help! Am I the only mom whose child’s need for closeness drives her nuts?